Wednesday, April 29, 2015

JAWS for Windows or flaws of commenting and labels: Come, let us reason with ethical words and appropriate product and company labels

Those who keep an eye on assistive tech commentary might be familiar with a blog written by a former executive at Freedom Scientific regarding ups and downs of Freedom Scientific, its products and competetors. Although some of his posts are very informative, there are others which seem to ignite flame among supporters and critics of Freedom Scientific. One of the recent posts from his blog on user license agreement for JAWS for Windows (the most popular screen reader for Microsoft Windows) goes into detail on his frustrations with certain parts of the legal text, with reader commenting on the legality of the text, and even expressing outrage at the attitudes of Freedom Scientific, its products and pricing.
while I do understand the frustrations that some may have on recent versions of JAWS, I would say some of the comments for the blog post and words used were not appropriate, or in my view, not quite reasonable and up to standards. Name calling, though it has its place, isn't a good thing to be used when one expresses angry emotions, especially on a public forum such as blog comments. This has negative repercussions for the company, the blogger, the commenters and the community at large.
First, here are some words that are used by some in the blindness community to describe Freedom Scientific and JAWS for Windows: freedom science fiction, slave science fiction, and flaws. Although some have adopted these words as campaign banners against Freedom scientific, it does not do justice to a company that opened the doors for competition in Windows screen reader market. For many in the screen reading market, JAWS for Windows has been called "the gold standard of screen reading" due to its power of scripting and Freedom Scientific's commitment to accessibility in the early days. Although I do certainly agree that the golden age of JAWS may have passed, I believe we cannot ignore the road we took to make Windows quite accessible - in fact, more accessible than in the past.
Second, we cannot ignore the fact that Freedom Scientific's competetors have their own flaws as well. Although Window-Eyes became free for those using licensed copies of Microsoft Office, we cannot forget that Window-Eyes itself costs several hundred dollars (Office itself also costs money as well). NonVisual Desktop Access has long ways to go when it comes to supporting professional applications, although commitment to NVDA from its user base is such that people are willing to recommend NVDA over other competetors. Just because something is perceived as flawed cannot be the reason to call JAWS "flaws".
Lastly, we need to remember that whatever words we use will come back to haunt us. Just as words and actions of celebrities (words that may harass someone) may come back to haunt them years later, whatever words we use to describe a product, even if it is assistive technology such as derogatory labels for a screen reader and its maker will indeed come back to haunt us in the future. In other words, be ethical with your words, especially in a public forum such as comments on blogs.
For reference, the article mentioned is:
* Hofstader, Chris. What Did I Just Agree To?, URL: